Enough with the folders

May the Apple gods forgive me for saying, but there are many things I really love about SharePoint, especially its ability to serve up content from Libraries or Lists.

When I see people at my company using a SharePoint library with folders I want to scream; and I often do, ask anyone on my team. Since we use SharePoint as our internal collaboration and social platform, I thought I’d share how, with a few simple configurations you can easily manage your content and serve up only what your users want. No more drilling down into folder upon folder. No more multiple versions of docs floating in email. There are a couple of basics to grasp:
  1. Lists and Libraries function the same way; one is for data points (List) one holds documents (Libraries)
  2. You can add custom “Columns” which allow you to filter, group, count, whatever, to serve up the content. It helps to equate it to a spreadsheet column to understand the concept
  3. You can put a List or Library on a page as many times as needed to give your users what they want.
MarcheSodaImagine the soda aisle at the market; that will be our List for this discussion.
The sodas are not thrown all over the place haphazardly, they are organized by brand, size, flavor, etc. So imagine you have a List called “Soda.” Besides the out of the box Columns that come with the site (such as Title, Modified, Modified By, etc) you can add your own. We’ll call them:
  • Brand
  • Flavor
  • Size
If you had folders you’d likely have main folders for Brand: Coke, Pepsi, etc and then folders inside for Flavor, and Size, etc…what a mess. With folders, you can’t show all the items by Size, or only show just the Diet Cherry Coke. You’re going to force people to dig to find what they want, when maybe they only want to see all the 2-liter bottles. With Columns, you can manage the items more easily and spit them out as needed.
Once you create the Columns, you’ll establish the values through the List Settings. So for the Column “Size” you’d have 2 Liter, 16 oz, 8 oz, etc. As you upload or add items to the List, you’ll assign a Size value. To make the values appear in the form when uploading, you need to create the Column “Flavor” as a “Choice” Column and then add the values (you can also pull them in from another List where you manage all the flavors, this is more advanced so let’s stick with the basics). You want to make sure that users can only add one value per item so set it to drop-down or radio button. You can allow multiple choices, but then you won’t be able to Group items, only Filter (we’ll get to that, so bear with me). So, as I said, when you add items to the List, you set the values for each Column. For example:
  • Brand – Coke
  • Flavor – Classic
  • Size – 2 Liter
OK, still with me? Now comes the real value of SharePoint – using the List to serve content rather than have users search for it. Remember users don’t want to cook the dinner, they just want to eat it. So we have a List with all the sodas in the store, all classified (remember this works for a Library as well, the items would be documents instead of data points of soda). So say you have two groups of people using your List; one focused on the size of the bottles and the other on all the Coke products. It is impossible to show this with folders, but with your snazzy List, it’s easy.
First add the List to a page. To keep this from becoming a more of a manifesto than it already is, we won’t go into the detail of every action, just the broad strokes. Anyway, once you’ve placed “Soda” on the page, it will show every item. Not great if there are hundreds of sodas. But now you’ll write a “View” to show what you want.
Group 1 wants to see everything on the List by bottle Size and Brand. You do this by selecting Edit webpart and then use the Group function to bucket the List by “Size” and “Brand.” Now all the items are shown in buckets with all the 2 Liter Coke products together, all the 2 Liter Pepsi products together etc.
The second group wants just the Coke products grouped by Flavor. This will require a Filter of the “Brand” Column and a Grouping by the “Flavor” Column. You set the Filter to Show items when Column = Brand “is equal to” Coke. Then set the Group By to “Flavor.” Now you have only Coke products by Flavor. Make sense? I’m sure by now you want a Coke product with a little rum in it.
You can filter or group in as many ways as you want to get the desired display. The best way to start is to ask what your group wants; how do they consume your information? How do you want to show it to them? That’s actually the harder part, seriously. Once you know what to serve, the keystrokes to set it up are relatively simple.
So ditch the folders and let me know how it goes.

About John Buonora

Social Learning Manager and Strategist working on career number three. An Old School guy with Millennial skills and a lover of my family, sports and food.
This entry was posted in SharePoint, Social Learning and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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